Shetland lace knitting

The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Shetland lace knitting

 

The making of very fine hand-knitted lace. Shetland fine lace is an extremely delicate knitted fabric made with soft Shetland wool spun into very fine yarn and knitted into intricate patterns. It is traditionally knitted by hand on wires using a knitting belt.

 

Status Critically endangered
Historic area of significance Unst, Shetland
Area currently practised Shetland
Origin in the UK
Current no. of professionals (main income) 0
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
Estimated at 5-10

There is 1 professional maker that we know of, Sheila Fowlie, and some others that may take occasional commissions.

Current no. of trainees
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Estimated at 11-20.

These are people who have the skills but, of these, it is unlikely that they would consider doing it for money.

Current total no. of leisure makers
Not known, see ‘other information’
Minimum no. of craftspeople required

 

History

Shetland lace was the mainstay of the Shetland knitwear industry during the nineteenth century. Arthur Anderson, one of the founders of P&O Shipping Company, introduced Shetland shawls to Queen Victoria and from there it became fashionable for ladies to wear Shetland shawls and stockings. The knitters of Unst were renowned for their fine spun yarn and intricate lace items, a number of which can be seen at Unst Heritage Centre.

Lace knitting was not a full time occupation for many people and would have mostly been a secondary income for crofters and fishing families.

 

Techniques

Traditionally the unwashed wool from Shetland sheep (the finest being around the neck) was carded or combed and worsted spun for strength on a Shetland spinnie (small upright spinning wheel) into an extremely fine thread, which even though twined into two ply could produce a shawl fine enough to be pulled through a wedding ring.  In the twenty-first century a one ply commercial equivalent is available.

The complex every row patterns such as fern, cockle shell, eyelid, Madeira diamond, basket o’ flowers, puzzle and many others including distinct lace edges, are more suited to garter stitch items such as fine lace scarves, stoles and shawls, however can also be knitted into delicate tops.  Small and repeating alternate row lace patterns such as razor shell, old shell, horseshoe and print o’ the wave can also be knitted in stocking stitch for garments such as jumpers and cardigans, and then it is called openwork.

True Shetland lace is traditionally knitted on fine double pointed needles (wires) using a leather knitting belt. This would have allowed the craftspeople to knit faster and when they were walking around.

 

Local forms

There are many people knitting lace using the more contemporary techniques of circular needles, and referencing Shetland lace in their work. There are also other lace traditions in countries such as Estonia where very fine knitted lace is still made commercially.

However, the tradition of knitting on wires as it would have been traditionally done in Shetland, is becoming increasingly rare.

 

Sub-crafts

  • Spinning lace yarn

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • It is very difficult to make a viable income from knitting Shetland lace due to the huge amount of time and labour that goes into knitting each piece.
  • Shetland lace has become less popular as a garment although the people who own them do often consider them to be highly prized possessions and the pinnacle of a knitter’s skill.
  • The traditional methods of knitting on wires has been largely replaced with modern techniques such as using circular needles
  • Shetland cobweb lace yarn is only available from a limited number of suppliers

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

Individual craftspeople:

 

Other information

There are a high number of amateur makers all over the world who are lace knitting enthusiasts and they are often working at a highly skilled level. One facebook group has over 6000 members. However, there are very few people who knit commercially or professionally.

There are some knitters in Shetland that may take commissions but most will knit shawls as family heirlooms and as gifts.

 

References

 

Wooden fishing net making

The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Wooden fishing net making

 

The construction of bentwood steamed ash or oak fishing nets and poles. See also net making.

 

Status Critically endangered
Historic area of significance UK
Area currently practised UK
Origin in the UK 1600s
Current no. of professionals (main income) 1
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
0
Current no. of trainees 0
Current total no. serious amateur makers
1-5
Current total no. of leisure makers
1-5
Minimum no. of craftspeople required

 

History

Up until early 1900’s most nets were steamed ash. These were replaced by metalwork and, as modern materials came available, the wooden frames almost vanished entirely. Now landing nets are made from carbon fibre, alloy etc.

There are some in the traditional angling community who try to keep traditionally made wood or bamboo rods, nets and other fishing equipment from being lost. Steamed wooden frames are almost impossible to source without extensive research to find a craftsperson who knows how to make one.

 

Techniques

  • Wood selection
  • Hand crafting the wood into suitable sizes and shapes for steaming
  • Fitting the steamed wood onto a former to retain its oval shape. Once dried and set to shape, sand and polish using oils or varnishes
  • Fitting said wooden frame to already handmade brass or alloy fittings
  • Fitting the net to the frame

 

Local forms

Several variations of these nets are made. The nets for coarse anglers are usually pear shaped, and quite large. Game anglers prefer smaller frames sometimes with a more pronounced flat end, and integral wooden handle. Coarse anglers have threaded metal fittings for attaching long pole and is made by the same craftsmen who make the nets.

 

Sub-crafts

  • Construction of knotless mesh nets (as is required today by U.K Environment Agency regulations) which is now usually done in the far-east and mass produced. Handmade knotless mesh netting is virtually unobtainable except from far eastern imports.

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Lack of training
  • Lack of demand
  • Niche market place
  • Lack of advertising
  • Lack of demand for craftsman made articles.

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

Individual craftspeople:

 

Other information

 

 

References

Kilt making

The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Kilt making

 

Tailoring yards of woollen cloth, by hand, into a perfectly fitting garment. Traditional kiltmaking is done entirely by hand.

 

Status Endangered
Historic area of significance Scotland
Area currently practised Scotland
Origin in the UK A long multi use version of the kilt has been worn by men in the Scottish Highlands for centuries but the knee length kilt we know today became popular in the early 18th Century.
Current no. of professionals (main income) 11-20
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
20-30
Current no. of trainees 15-25
Current total no. serious amateur makers
11-20
Current total no. of leisure makers
30-40
Minimum no. of craftspeople required 60+

 

History

The kilt started off as a blanket-like garment that was folded at the back, held at the waist with a belt with the remainder of the cloth falling back or wrapped around the shoulders/ over the head for protection. When cold it could be used as a blanket. Tartan was originally regional and recognisable by the colours derived from local plants that were used to dye it with.

The wearing of Highland dress was banned by the British Government (as well as the wearing of arms and the speaking of Gaelic) with the Dress act of 1746 in an attempt to bring the Scottish clans under control after the Jacobite Risings. However it was during this 37 years of forbidden kilt wearing that the military (who could still wear it) developed the garment into a more fitting and tailored garment. The Victorians continued to develop tartan and kilts to eventually becoming the eight yard hand tailored garment we know today.

Kilts are associated with Scottish Highland dancing, with Scottish pipe bands, with the military and is the traditional dress for weddings and other celebrations. The kilt is an icon of Scottish culture and heritage and it is still an important symbol of family and being a Scot.

In Scotland many men get a kilt for their 21st birthday, their graduation, their wedding, worn at Hogmanay, and at important occasions throughout their lives. They are made for life.

Many Americans and Europeans, Australians, New Zealanders, Scandinavians and sometimes Africans with Scottish ancestry will make a point of purchasing a kilt at some point in their lives. They are not associated with any particular social class or religion; it’s an inclusive garment with tartans to reflect a person’s family name, beliefs, hometown, etc.

 

Techniques

  • Measuring of the customer, calculating the bespoke pleat width, calculating the front and back apron size and shape
  • Pleating the cloth/tartan either to the stripe or sett
  • Creating a pleat design, either as knife, box, military roll or Kinguissie form
  • Transferring the measurements to the cloth
  • Hand sewing pleats using invisible stitching
  • Hand sewing a fringe on the front apron
  • Cutting the pleats to reduce bulk
  • Reinforcing the pleats with canvas
  • Calculating the placement of the buckles and straps
  • Sewing belt/sporran loops and making chapes (fabric pieces that hold the buckle onto the cloth)
  • Lining part of the inside with cotton.

A variety of hand sewing stitches are used for the different processes.

 

Local forms

Differences in kilts are mostly in the tartan which is clan related; each tartan differs and therefore needs to be pleated differently. There are ways that groups like their kilt to be set up, for example pipers/ military will have it pleated to the stripe.

All cloth is wool but comes in different weights, lightweight for women’s kilted skirts only, medium weight suitable for everyone and heavy weight mostly used by pipers and the military but not exclusively. Kilts from alternative materials have gained some popularity such as wool tweed or even alternative fibres such as cotton.

 

Sub-crafts

  • Sporran making
  • Knitting kilt hose (socks)
  • Highlandwear – e.g. kilt pins sighan dubhs, ghillie brogues, argyll and bonnie Prince Charlie jackets, the smock shirt etc
  • Tartan weaving

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Lack of recognition for makers – most kilts are bought from kilt retailers, not directly from kilt makers. The skilled craftspeople work behind the scenes, are paid on a piece rate, and are often underpaid for the work that they do. The kiltmaker as a craftsperson is largely invisible. It is, therefore, difficult for makers to make a sustainable income and the pool of ‘timeserved’ skilled kiltmakers is declining.

  • Market issues – the demand for kilts is high and there are still plenty of people around the world who are prepared to invest in a hand tailored kilt as a one-off ‘lifetime’ purchase. However, they are unlikely to buy directly from a maker.

  • Market issues – a move towards cheaper machine made kilts and imported kilts has led to a rapid decline in skilled kiltmakers.

  • Threat to skills – whilst there are still a number of traditional kiltmakers still practising in Scotland, the standard of skills in making a made to measure bespoke hand stitched kilt could be under threat.

  • Training issues – many traditional kiltmakers are self-employed and can’t afford to train apprentices. In addition to this, traditionally kiltmaking was a secretive craft with makers often unwilling to pass on or share skills. This attitude is changing but it has left a legacy in that young people are unaware of the craft or don’t know how to access training.

  • Training issues – there are few places to train and very few apprenticeships available. However, there are some initiatives that have been set up by makers to teach the hand skills such as the Kiltmakery, the Keith Kilt and Textile Centre, and the Edinburgh Kilt Academy. Most people who want to learn kiltmaking want to do it as a hobby or for friends and family, it can be a challenge to find people who want to make a career out of kiltmaking.

  • Ageing workforce – Many kiltmakers are close to retirement age, although there are some new young career kiltmakers coming through.

  • COVID-19 – this has had a detrimental effect on the kiltmaking industry. The number of kilts being sold has dropped dramatically as events like weddings and parties have been cancelled or postponed. The mills were also forced to stop weaving for months meaning there is some shortages of some tartans, as well as shortages of items from the wider highlandwear industry.

  • Ageing kiltmakers retiring due to COVID-19 – Some experienced makers have given up during the pandemic and will not return to kiltmaking, which has hastened the decline in numbers of craftspeople.

 

Support organisations

There are some organisations that are delivering training in kilt making:

 

Craftspeople currently known

Businesses employing two or more makers:

 

Other information

Kiltmaking is a craft that is uniquely linked to a nation’s identity and therefore evokes a lot of emotion. It produces a product that is meant to last a lifetime and is to be passed down generations and a lot of the work kiltmakers do are repairs and resizing of kilts. Repairing, observing and learning from the work of kiltmakers of the past is one of the most exciting parts of the work. Many leave marks, dates and names under the lining to be discovered.

 

References

 

Silver spinning

The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Silver spinning

 

The process of shaping flat silver into a hollow item using a lathe to spin the sheet whilst shaping it over a wooden or nylon former. See also metal spinning and silversmithing.

 

Status Critically endangered
Historic area of significance Sheffield, Birmingham
Area currently practised Sheffield, Surrey, Kent, Birmingham
Origin in the UK
Current no. of professionals (main income) 5
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
6
Current no. of trainees 1
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers
Minimum no. of craftspeople required

 

History

Spinning produces three-dimensional hollow-ware items such as trophies, vessels and cups. Items can be made to varying scales, in quantity, in a uniform and quick way. Spinners also produce and maintain the associated tools, machinery, formers and chucks used to produce spun vessels.

In the 1950s there were hundreds of spinners, but the trade side of the industry has contracted significantly. Now very few large companies are left; most are ‘self-employed men in sheds’.

 

Techniques

It takes practice and years of experience to learn to spin metal. Spinners understand how different metals behave and become skilled at looking at designs and understanding how best to achieve the required form.

  • Turning
  • Drafting

 

Local forms

 

 

Sub-crafts

  • Silver plating – over recent years many platers have closed and in Sheffield and there is only one known silver plater left.

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Skills issues: There is a lack of training. There is also an expense of raw materials in training and lack of large orders to create repetition for trainees.
  • Market issues: The loss of large trade companies in centres such as Sheffield / Birmingham, combined with cheap imports from Far East are perceived as the biggest issues facing the craft.

 

Support organisations

Craftspeople currently known

Individual craftspeople:

  • Stefan Coe – Surrey
  • David Allison – Sheffield
  • Warren Martin – Sheffield (made redundant during lockdown) now self-employed part time.
  • Stuart Ray – Kent
  • Carl Longshaw – Birmingham
  • Paul Tolland, LJ Millington – Birmingham

Part-time craftspeople:

  • Steve Millington – Birmingham, LJ Millington
  • Graham Oldfield
  • Steve Gifford – Sheffield, Camelot
  • Sam Rutherford – Sheffield, Perry & Glossop
  • Ian Nevin – Sheffield, British Silverware
  • Graham Nye & Son – Walsall, Swatkins
  • Peter Lunn

 

Other information

 

 

References

 

Sporran making

The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Sporran making

 

The making of sporrans from a range of materials including leather, fur, metal and horsehair.

This craft uses products derived from animals – please read our ethical sourcing statement.

 

Status Critically endangered
Historic area of significance Scotland
Area currently practised Scotland
Origin in the UK 12th Century
Current no. of professionals (main income) 6-10
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
unknown
Current no. of trainees 0
Current total no. serious amateur makers
11-20
Current total no. of leisure makers
Minimum no. of craftspeople required

 

History

The sporran (gaelic for purse) originated as a leather bag worn around the waist which served as a bag/pocket to carry oats. These days it is used for cash/keys/card and anything else you’d usually keep in your pocket.

Sporrans are worn at weddings and significant celebrations, St Andrews Day and Hogmanay. They are closely associated with Highland culture and Gaelic culture.

Military sporrans are traditionally made from goat hair and horse hair. They are still widely used in pipe bands and for ceremonial purposes in the UK and Canadian military.

 

Techniques

Sporran making shares a number of skills with other crafts disciplines such as leather working. However, the combination of skills and the use of materials such as horsehair make sporran making a highly skilled craft.

 

Local forms

There are three main types of sporran, although they now come in a wide variety of designs:

  • Day sporrans – leather pouches with simple adornments, they often have three or more tassels and tooled designs.
  • Dress sporrans – larger than day sporrans and often highly ornate with silver, pewter or chrome cantles and fur or hair tassels.
  • Horsehair sporrans – worn as part of regimental attire for the pipers or the drummers. A traditional horsehair pouch extends just below the belt to just below the hem of the kilt.

 

Sub-crafts

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Training issues: Lack of training opportunities
  • Raw materials: Difficulty accessing materials on a small scale in Scotland
  • Skills issues: The basic skills of sporran making, such as leather working, are easily accessible but the higher level skills of working with horsehair, skins and mixed materials are specialist and can only be learnt on the job with a skilled sporran maker.
  • Competition from overseas markets: Many sporrans are now made more cheaply overseas for the home and tourist markets leading to a decline in the market for Scottish made sporrans. In 2021 the Government contract for making sporrans for the Scottish Regiments was awarded to a company who will source sporrans made overseas.

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

Individual craftspeople:

  • Jennifer Cantwell
  • Kate McPherson
  • Margaret Morrison Ltd
  • Janet Eagleton
  • Herd of Sporrans
  • William Scott
  • McRostie
  • Mackenzie Leather
  • Ross Ormerod
  • Lamont Sporrans

 

Other information

 

 

References

Sporran maker given marching orders, Mike Wade, The Times, June 05 2021

 

Hat making

The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Hat making

 

The making of all types of hats using straw, felt and fabrics by an organised series of processes. These include, but are not limited to felt hats such as trilbies and fedoras, straw hats, fabric hats such as caps and deerstalkers, and uniform hats.

This category is distinct from millinery which includes bespoke, occasion wear, haute couture and theatrical hats, although we acknowledge that there will be areas of overlapping skills. A milliner would usually make one-off or small runs of hats. See also millinery, straw hat plaiting, hat block making and bowed felt hat making.

 

Status Endangered
Historic area of significance
  • Felt hats – Luton
  • Silk hats – Greater Manchester, Cheshire, Bristol and Warwickshire
  • Straw hats – Luton, Dunstable, St Albans
  • Fabric – East End of London, Luton
Area currently practised UK, but still centred around Luton
Origin in the UK
Current no. of professionals (main income) 11-20 companies making hats. Number of individual makers not known.
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
Current no. of trainees
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers
Minimum no. of craftspeople required

 

History

Felt hats – This is the oldest of the organised hat making industries and is also the only type of felt that was traditionally made in the UK. Felt hat making as we know it today is believed to have started around 1500, before then they were largely imported from Italy and France.

The Company of Feltmakers was established in 1604. Originally they were responsible for making the hoods but gradually became involved with the making of hats. The industry of felt hood making and felt hat making was centred in London until the mid 1700s when both trades located in Manchester, gradually spreading into Stockport, Denton and Cheshire. Bristol was another important centre.

Felt hat making became a factory-based commercial enterprise and was the first hat industry to be organised into a recognised trade. There are two main types of felt used to make hats: fur-felt and wool. Fur felt was often made from beaver and/or rabbit. The final product was a felt hood, now known as a hood, cone, flare or capeline.

Felt making was also a cottage industry with small businesses established outside of cities. There is some evidence to suggest that the Feltmakers Guild tried to suppress these small enterprises in favour of the more industrialised approach.

The majority of felt hats in the UK are now made in the last few remaining hat factories using imported felt hoods.

Felt hats made from handmade felt – This relates to the making of functional, hardwearing felt hats from raw materials (wool or fur) using a pre-industrial felt making process (bow carding) that is quite specific to the felt hat making trade. Although this craft was practiced throughout Western Europe and the Americas, historically, Britain was globally recognised for its superior craftsmanship and exported its hats worldwide.

‘Contemporary’ feltmakers make hats using a different process which, although facilitates great creative freedom in both design and colour, does not produce the dense, smooth felt traditionally associated with functional hats.

Felt hood making is now commercially extinct in the United Kingdom. There is one felt hat maker that we are aware of, Rachel Frost, who makes felt hoods and hats using the traditional method of bow carding. Today, most hat makers and milliners use imported felt hoods for their work.

See bowed felt hat making for more information.

Straw hats – These can be dated back to the 1700s in an organised form, but probably predate this.

Fabric hats – These were traditionally less commercial and were associated with both hat makers and dress makers. Within hat manufacturing there is no longer any ‘mass’ production of fabric hats, except for sinamay/abaca (an open weave fabric made from natural fibres) which is used to produce long runs of single designs.

Uniform hats and riding hats – These are now made in one or two companies in the UK including Patey, Try & Lilly and Herbert Johnson.

There are many individual milliners making pattern-piece caps and hats.

 

Techniques

Felt hood making techniques – In the beginning the processes were mainly hand processes, but with the development and growth of the felt hat industry, the processes became mechanised to speed production to satisfy the demand for hats.

  • Unpacking the wool/fur
  • Blending – previously bowing
  • Carding
  • Forming
  • Hardening
  • Settling
  • Bumping
  • Bleaching/dyeing
  • Planking
  • Stiffening
  • Blocking
  • Finishing – polishing and dusting

The hood was then sold to a hat manufacturer or to an independent milliner to transform into a hat. Some companies did make hats from the hoods they produced.

Making a felt hat from a hood – The making of a hat involves a range of techniques, which will vary according to the type of hat being made. This falls into the Millinery category and also into larger scale hat manufacturing.

  • Steaming/softening
  • Stiffening
  • Blocking
  • Trimming

Straw hat making techniques – The process for a factory-based operation and millinery studio are very similar. The process will vary slightly according to the design, but main difference occurs within blocking. A long production run of hats requires the use of an aluminium block and blocking or pressing machine, while a milliner making a single or just a few hats will block by hand on a wooden block.

The following sequence of processes can be undertaken as a factory process or by a milliner.

  • The plait (handmade) or braid (usually man-made) is checked, wound onto a plait winder, lengths of plait or braid may be joined to create longer lengths.
  • Sewing – the process involves matching the hat to the design hat block. Note, within the factory setting the block was usually, but not exclusively, made from plaster or composite material. The sewing can be done by hand or on a specially adapted sewing machine.
  • Stiffening
  • Partial drying
  • Blocking – either by hand or on a blocking machine or press if this is part of a large run of hats. This relates to hat block making.
  • Trimming – within the trimming section there are various jobs, lining, sewing in the headband, adding labels. Adding the decorative trimmings of artificial fabric flowers, ribbons, feathers, etc. This relates to millinery.

 

Local forms

 

 

Sub-crafts

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Market issues: Effects of Brexit affecting their European market
  • Market issues: Rising prices for materials/supplies
  • Business issues: Ageing business premises
  • Training issues: Perceived lack of interest for apprenticeships/training

 

Support organisations

  • Worshipful Company of Feltmakers
  • The British Hat Guild

 

Craftspeople currently known

Individual craftspeople:

Businesses employing two or more makers:

 

Other information

Historically the craft of hat making has taken place in a factory of large workshop. Hat making can also include hats made at an artisan level by individuals who use the same or similar processes.

 

References